The Gorbachev Era

A determined and energetic leader pushes the Soviet Union toward a second revolution

We knew he was going to be different. We did not know he was going to be that different. Last week he marked only his 28th month on the job, yet already his name is being used to describe a new era. That may be premature, but it conveys the sense among citizens and observers of the Soviet Union that Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, 56, is more than just the supreme leader of a vast, heavily armed country: he also represents the potential for dramatic change.

At first Gorbachev seemed new and interesting because of his vigor. That alone distinguished him from...